After a fantabulous debate night, in the cold light of day, reality intrudes. Make no mistake: Next time, President Obama will come loaded for bear. And athough even the media couldn't ignore the absolute (figurative) decimation of their favorite, they will work hard to turn the story around, and it won't even take a week until the "Obama resurrected" (as becomes an Obamessiah) narrative starts to flow. What's more, other presidents have had bad first debates -- like Reagan and George W. Bush. Yet they went on to win.
But even with all that, I think President Obama's meltdown in last night's debate may have a more negative, lasting imprint than the poor initial performances of the two presidents mentioned above. Here's why.
More than any other president in modern times, President Obama's "greatness" (such as it is) has been completely divorced from any substantive accomplishment. Either it's been symbolic or, in the spirit of his Nobel Peace Prize, it's been potential. He had no meaningful professional accomplishments before entering politics, and there, he was promoted repeatedly without any real legislative achievements. Most of his partisans either think he's wonderful because they share similar (leftist) ideologies, or because they've been assured of it, repeatedly, by people they presume would know.
The problem with being kicked upstairs -- again and again -- almost exclusively on "style points" is that if (to borrow a Wizard of Oz metaphor) the curtain is yanked open on the great wizard, it's a catastrophic occurrence. What's finally revealed bears no resemblance to what people have been repeatedly assured is there -- and, to top it off, Romney -- the guy that the MSM has insisted is bumbling and uncaring -- actually comes across as very knowledgeable and decent.
This thing is far from over. But when you have an incumbent like Obama who has long had god-like qualities attributed to him based on little but his style or other extraneous characteristics, a night like last night may be a far deeper wound than the stumbles of Reagan or Bush. It really does reinforce Clint Eastwood's much-mocked-by-the-left critique of the Presient as an "empty chair" (well, make that "podium").
Finally, to borrow a different metaphor, assessments of Obama may have been a little like the tech bubble of the late '90's -- where tech stocks were overvalued based on their novelty and perceived potential, rather than on hard, cold P/E ratios or actual profits. When that bubble finally bursts -- and investors start to question whether there's any "there" there -- the fall can be steep and swift. Did last night represent the puncturing of the Obama "bubble"?
Update: Pre-debate, Peter Alexander of NBC News assured viewers that President Obama "has prepared more for these debates than any sitting president in the modern era." Reallllyyyy? And last night's outing was the best he could do after all that prep? Wow.